Over the course of their four years at Paly, students spend 4320 hours with their classmates. However, many students fail to develop a deep connection with their peers despite spending such a significant amount of time with them. People’s adolescent years are arguably the most overwhelming and confusing of their lives; it is during this time that the support of those around is most crucial, especially in the fast paced, high stress community of Silicon Valley.
If students were given the opportunity to bond with one another through deep discussion in a safe environment, the student body would become more supportive and empathetic as a result. This would also be a start to eliminating harassment and bullying around campus and building a tighter student body.
Challenge Day is a social and emotional learning program that “offers schools and youth organizations an opportunity to ignite a shift toward greater school connectedness, empathy, and inclusivity,” according to the Challenge Day organization’s website.
Though Paly does hold Camp Unity, a four-day leadership program focused on furthering students’ understanding of themselves and their peers, only a select number of students are able to participate in Camp Unity each year. Expanding this type of opportunity to the entire student body would encourage the whole school to get involved with addressing mental health issues and increasing connectedness at Paly.When asked about the possibility of implementing Challenge Day or a similar program, Wellness Center staff expressed support. They also said that the implementation of a similar program had been discussed in the past.
Challenge Day has many different programs, one of which is a day-long session held at middle and high schools. This program has been held at Monta Vista, and according to former Monte Vista senior Edmund Shen, many students have responded positively to it. Though the session was not mandatory for Monta Vista students, Shen said after hearing what a positive experience his peers had in past years, he decided to attend during his senior year.
Shen said that the program served as a “unifying experience” and that it “helped build empathy” with his classmates. According to Shen, the program had a lasting impact on him and many of his peers, and forced him to re-evaluate the way he acted towards both his peers and the adults in his life.
Though the inclusiveness on Paly’s campus has improved since our administration started to prioritize student wellbeing, it is our belief that there is still widely-held stigma surrounding mental health issues and other personal problems. Implementing Challenge Day would encourage bonding between upperclassmen and underclassmen, as well as within each grade level.
Most importantly, it would draw attention to personal problems many students typically don’t reveal and thus increase empathy around campus, ultimately serving to unify our school and create a friendlier, more inclusive campus.